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There Was Something About Harry

August 13, 2004|Bill Dwyre

Reggie Jackson would have loved Harry Usher. As its general manager for the 1984 Games, Usher was the straw that stirred the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee's drink.

While President Peter Ueberroth stood atop the mountain, imparting his Olympic vision, Usher was at base camp, crunching the numbers, rallying the troops, and making vision reality. Ueberroth and Usher, longtime friends, were an imposing team and a great match.

Amy Quinn, who served as the LAOOC's news secretary, said, "Harry could finish Peter's sentences. They were like an old married couple."

Today, the Athens Olympics will open. It is one day past the 20-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Games' closing. Because the Olympic movement owes such a huge debt to that L.A. effort, led by Ueberroth and Usher, it is fitting to focus on Usher.

When he died, at 61, of a heart attack on June 22, 2000, he was memorialized as the man who'd made Ueberroth's mind pictures into things you could hang on the wall.

He had been Ueberroth's lawyer when Ueberroth ran a travel agency before being tapped to run the Olympics. And before that, Usher was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown and editor of the Stanford Law Review.

After the Olympics, he had been commissioner of the ill-fated United States Football League, a successful businessman and consultant.

He played the piano, wrote poetry, loved sports and, when later in life he married lawyer and USC dean Jane Ellison and had two more children to go with the four he'd had with first wife Jo, he scrambled to return most weekends from whatever business task he was undertaking to get to Little League games and family activities.

Quinn said that among Ueberroth's strengths was his willingness "to hire people who were better than he was." She said it while speaking about Usher.

Bill Bedford, one of the sport commissioners for the LAOOC, said, "Peter was good, actually terrific. But Harry was the guts of it, day to day."

Richard Perelman, just out of UCLA and wanting to be part of the L.A. Games, applied for a job on the committee and was hired by Usher, who saw something in Perelman, even if he didn't have a specific spot for him. Usher signed up Perelman as "press operations guy," and Perelman became one of the best-ever "press operations guys."

"Harry's role in what happened here in 1984 is beyond comprehension," Perelman said. "There was not a single area where he didn't have direct personal contact. It always amazed me, for one guy to have that much stuff in his brain and not have it explode."

Usher even selected the Olympic color scheme of soft, bright colors. Ueberroth is colorblind.

Ueberroth has often called Usher his "comrade and partner" and has marveled in public at what he called Usher's "boundless energy."

Quinn said that she and several other members of the LAOOC had a chance to sit together, with their families, at the closing ceremony Aug. 12, 1984.

"It was the first time we really had a chance to kind of stop and look around," she said. "I remember looking at Harry and seeing him kind of do that, look around, and take a deep breath. It was like, for the first time, he had a chance to savor it and say to himself, 'Wow, I did a great job.'

"Which he sure did."

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